Monday, April 15

At 70, This Instagram Influencer Shows That It’s Never Too Late

“It’s Never Too Late” is a series that tells the stories of people who decide to pursue their dreams on their own terms.


Lyn Slater will be the first to tell you her life has been a series of happy accidents and purposeful metamorphoses.

“Because I’m constantly reinventing myself, my life is always a surprise. I’m an improvisational person. I don’t plan. I’m very in the moment,” said Ms. Slater, 70, a former professor of social work at Fordham University in New York. “That thinking has served me well. It has created endless adventures, surprises, incredible friendships and profound learning.”

Indeed.

In 2014, she was taking a handful of creative classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Her professor in a class on how to open a vintage clothing store suggested she start a fashion blog. Ms. Slater, who is from Dobbs Ferry in suburban Westchester County and moved to New York City in the mid-90s, thought, “Why not.” She had always had a passion and flair for style and was often mistaken for being a part of the fashion industry. She thought she would focus on the blog and that theme.

“I dressed in a way that people didn’t expect. I was very avant-garde, dressing in a minimalistic, black and white look. I wore Japanese designers from consignment shops — like Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto,” she explained. “I dressed in a way I felt, and to convey an identity.”

After a fellow student in her class suggested she call herself the Accidental Icon, Ms. Slater took on the title and acquired a website and blog domain using that name. She posted three times a week, usually composing pieces introspectively about clothing and designers, and the integral role those two topics played in her life. Often she would wear an article of clothing and would write an essay “about the designer’s inspiration and how I felt wearing it,” she said.

The accompanying photos were taken by her longtime partner, Calvin Lom, 66, a retired cyclotron engineer. (Today the pair live in Peekskill, N.Y.) A five-year stint as a sought-after fashion influencer — @iconaccidental on Instagram — was her next big career step.

Then came the identity crisis and loss of self.

Her triumphs, transformations and troubles, not to mention her truths, are recounted in her book, “How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly From the Accidental Icon,” which will be published in March by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

“The book is a compilation of essays starting when I turned 60 in 2013 until the present time,” Ms. Slater said. “It’s a book about reinvention and things that I’ve learned. How I became an accidental icon, and experiences that happened to me. It culminates when I have this crisis of values.”

(The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

How did you go from being a full-time social worker to the Accidental Icon?

In 2014 I was doing very heavy work that focused on trauma, child and sexual abuse, and the child welfare system. I needed to do something creative, because for me, that’s life saving. Professors and people told me I had great style. When the blog suggestion came up, I wanted to dig into that. I was always interested in clothes and fashion. Clothes have always manifested who I want to be. I thought: “OK. I can do that. I know how to do a website. I can make this happen.”

How did you know what to focus on?

There was a big hole for women my age, who were like me, urban, intellectual and invested in their life and career. The blog I wanted to write didn’t exist. I wanted to engage with a community of women who wanted to think and talk about fashion as a way to express identity. I never had a target market.

You quickly gained a lot of attention, accruing almost a million followers across your social media platforms. How did that transpire?

My writing was my authenticity. The blog really was my impulse to be a writer. I became more visible in the world. I transitioned from the blog to working predominantly on Instagram and doing sponsored posts. I got a Valentino campaign, then an international one with Mango, a Spanish brand geared toward a younger consumer. The fact that they featured me was groundbreaking. Then I got followers from all over the world. I signed with a modeling agency and got a literary agent. I got seen by fashion editors and started doing magazine shoots and music videos, modeling, campaigns, and working with emerging designers.

By 2019 you had a crisis. What happened?

I lost myself. I realized I was unhappy. Everything became very controlling. People tell you what they want you to post, how they want you to do your pictures, what they want you to say. That was not why I started this. I wanted to have a new adventure, meet new people, explore new fields and to express myself creatively. I lost the intimate community who were truly engaged. I was making a space where people who felt unheard and invisible were feeling, through me, seen. Younger women who were terrified of being old were saying I was helping them not be afraid of that.

What did you learn throughout this experience?

That you need equal amounts an analog life and a digital one. In the beginning, the blog allowed an older person to break into fashion. But after a time, it put me in a box and that became oppressive. I’ve learned how living a digital life can change you. I got sucked in and I started to compromise my values. I’ve learned how easy and seductive it is to lose yourself in all of this.

How did you return to your core self?

I went back to writing. I no longer spend great amounts of time on social media. I no longer do it for money. I now do it as I originally started out, which is through writing. I have a Substack that I engage with more than my social media. I have strong priorities, like putting my family, my home and my health before anything else. I continue to post because of the group of people that are engaged with me, and for whom my words are important to them, inspire them, comfort them, and make them feel good about themselves.

How did turning 70 feel?

I think getting older is not reflected accurately. Aging is a journey. People were seeing an older person who was not concerned with being old. My age was irrelevant. There are many good things about aging. You have a lot of life experience. So when things happen, you don’t flip out. You know what to do. You’ve done it before. You have more confidence, you become less reliant on what anybody thinks, which is huge.

What is your best advice?

The key to life is flinging yourself into life without a plan and being open to living that way. It’s a hopeful philosophy because it anticipates that there will always be a future, and that there will always be something exciting, different and new.